Agents of Change: Sondra Richard is a ‘Cajun Lady’ who cares
Richard, a lifelong Baton Rouge resident, leads the Cajun Ladies Crisis Team, a group of volunteers offering assistance and donations after natural disasters.
When a big storm or hurricane pummels the Baton Rouge region, real estate agent Sondra Richard and the Cajun Ladies Crisis Team spring into action.
Richard, along with her trusted group of volunteers, moves elderly residents to higher ground, collects donated goods via Facebook and provides much-needed items like generators during power outages.
"In Baton Rouge, we're our own set of people. We are Napoleonic French who settled this region, and we do things differently. In times of distress, this community comes together," Richard said. "One thing you can say about us Cajuns is that we pull together; we are neighborly."
Richard (pronounced "Ree-shard") is the go-to person for help and comfort during the worst of times in the community she calls home. She proudly refers to herself as "The Cajun Lady" on her business cards for Sondra Sells Houses, her real estate firm in Denham Springs, a Baton Rouge suburb.
Having worked as a real estate agent in Baton Rouge for more than two decades, Richard knows the area and its residents better than most. She and her informal group of volunteers come together to provide help and assistance after natural disasters — and Baton Rouge seems to have its share of them.
Richard ticks off the names of hurricanes that have swept through the city, with 2021's devastating Hurricane Ida coming to mind immediately. But it was the great flood of 2016 in Baton Rouge that led Richard to first organize and respond when people needed help the most.
More than a dozen people died during three days of heavy rains that became known as "the no-name storm." It was a life-changing event for Richard. She had tried to evacuate her parents from their flood-prone neighborhood only to experience rising waters in her own home. The three fled to a friend's house, but it was several months before Richard could return to her place.
"When God takes you down to your knees and wakes you up, you don't let it defeat you… I did not. I cried and then I tackled it and got even," Richard said with conviction. She handled many of the repair jobs to fix her flood-damaged home.
But there were other residents who couldn't afford the costs to make their homes habitable again. Many were seniors. Richard helped them put their homes on the market — 18 sellers in all — and she did not take a commission.
"You got a $150,000 home and investors fly in and give you 50 grand, and that is wrong. You already are under enormous stress. Some sold their houses and let them go for half price. It was too hard," she recalled.
"I navigated and showed up at the closing and told them what they needed to do. There was no reason to take their money, They lost their home. My philosophy is: When your friends and neighbors are down, why kick them more?" Richard said.
When Hurricane Harvey slapped Baton Rouge in 2017, Richard said she was ready for it. She garnered resources and donations via Facebook and rallied the newly formed Cajun Ladies Crisis Team. They turned out to be a formidable force, no matter the strength or velocity of the storm that barreled down on Baton Rouge.
"I can utilize myself distributing things. I have the connections, and people know who I am. I am the trusted one in the community," Richard said. "We are five ladies who created our own team with neon T-shirts that let folks who live here know we are from here too, and we can take care of you every time," she said.
''In February, we were without electricity for nine days" Richard said. "The Cajun Ladies Crisis Team stepped in to help. I had saved three generators in my garage. I brought the generators to residents without electricity, and they had heat."
Richard offers this advice to people who want to make a difference in their community but don't know where or how to start: "You can help one person at a time. That is where it starts. It is about having a servant's heart."